Students encouraged to become organ donors at annual PRSSA event

Mike and Barbara Simmermon at the annual Organ Donor Day event. - Managing Editor / Abigail Twiford

The sun was finally out after several days of pouring rain. It was a brisk but comfortable April 4 and the Anthony J. Fulginiti Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) at Rowan University was out in the damp grass of the Discovery amphitheater for their annual Organ Donor Day event.  

The event has been run by Rowan’s chapter of PRSSA every year for over 30 years. Partnering with the Gift of Life Donor Program, the annual event aims to draw in students from around the campus to become registered organ donors, encouraging those who stop by both to change the registration on their license and to sign up for Gift of Life’s own registry of donors.

Rhiannon Ortiz is a senior journalism major who made the decision to register as a donor at the tables.

“It’s something that I really have never thought about doing. But once it was explained to me, it just seems like a good thing to do, especially because everything would go to waste otherwise. So it’s like a way to help people, even when you’re no longer physically able to do it,” said Ortiz.

Becoming an organ donor means that when the individual who makes the decision dies if any of the organs or tissues in their bodies are usable post-mortem, they will be donated to those who are in need of things like hearts, kidneys, or corneas to continue living or to improve their quality of life. 

This can be done by the deceased’s family as well, but prior registry as a donor expedites the process, which can be vital as over 103,000 people are currently on the waitlist and 17 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant. 

Each donor is capable of saving up to eight lives through their organs and can improve the lives of up to 75 others through tissue donation.  

With the tables set up slightly below the eye level of those on the street, the group decided to move up to the brick pathway in front of Discovery Hall to be more visible and draw in more passersby. 

One of the tables was set up with several gift bags for raffles with gift cards to local businesses like Axe and Arrow, Chickie’s and Pete’s, LaScala’s, and the Monarch Diner. Two gift baskets were also being raffled off, one filled with snacks and a blanket and the other with PRSSA-branded goods. 

The other table held information pamphlets, wristbands, and cups for donors. 

Adriana Bartolomeo is a public relations major, president of ProfAgency and PRSSA’s cystic fibrosis and organ donor day chair. 

“We have a lot of dedicated students from PRSSA and ProfAgency to help us plan everything that went into the event, from generating fliers to booking vendors, all different kinds of things, and definitely took a lot of hard work and it all paid off,” said Bartolomeo. 

Everyone who registered to be a donor or who donated money directly to Gift of Life was given free raffle tickets and a Gift of Life goodie bag. For anyone who didn’t want to donate directly or register as a donor themselves, there was also an option to buy raffle tickets, with that money also being donated.

One of the dogs from the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program, Cinder, was also there to draw in more potential donors.

Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program dog, Cinder, posing with the mock driver’s license. – Managing Editor / Abigail Twiford

A game of disc golf was set up beside the tables and water ice in six different flavors was available for those registering or making a financial donation. 

While most of the event was dedicated to post-mortem donation, the available pamphlets also made mention of living donation. If a person makes the decision to become a living donor, they are able to donate one of their kidneys and a portion of their liver without significant risk to their health. Living donors are typically able to return to their usual activities within a few weeks

Living donors are also able to choose who their organ goes to, which is exactly what the guest speaker PRSSA invited, Mike Simmerman, did for his wife Barbara, another invited speaker. 

After Barbara Simmermon was diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctors noticed that there was also a problem with her kidneys. She was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a condition where scar tissue builds up in the filtering unit of the kidney. Her left kidney had already completely stopped working and her right was only doing 10% of its normal functioning. She would need a kidney transplant or else she would have to go on dialysis.

Her husband was tested and turned out to be a match.

“Because we were married, we didn’t have to wait to do the transplant. It was scheduled very quickly and got it done before she had to ever go on dialysis, which was really important to not have to do that. So that worked out really well,” said Mike Simmermon. 

The two Simmermon and their daughter stood by the tables and spoke to prospective donors about their story and the reasons organ donation is important. 

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